Is There a 12-Step Program for Sci-Fi Addicts?
No wonder why I wasn’t the world’s greatest student.
My Bar-Mitzvah was pending in 1977. I was required to learn the usual Jewish prayers, in Hebrew, to sing aloud to a group of friends and family, most of whom would surely have no idea what I was saying. Or singing.
Except for some of the older ones, that is, those whose parents formally arrived in the U.S. via Ellis Island.
The Bar Mitzvah would be held in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn — then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood — and many of my older relatives did get by on some Yiddish 101 when they did not want the kids to know what they were saying. Some, like my immensely missed Uncle David Palatnek, knew the Hebrew word-for-word.
I could not disappoint him or my father, both having been raised in households where both Yiddish and some Hebrew were de rigueur. I needed to learn my haftorah portion, and fast.
Thing is, my two favorite comic book characters were having a cross-over that month, the titular characters from Marvel’s “Tomb of Dracula” and “Werewolf by Night.” This would surely be the dream clash of all dream clashes … and so I secretly read both issues cover-to-cover a dozen times when I was supposed to be studying my Hebrew.
Now, I got through the Bar-Mitzvah okay, but it was touch-and-go for a bit. My parents were worried that I was not learning the Hebrew, and so they invited my rabbi to the apartment for dinner. This would be the first of several weekly dinners, until the Hebrew was pounded into my thick skull. However, when showing him my bedroom — with all of my genre collectibles prominently displayed — he looked at my velvet Mr. Spock black-light poster hanging with thumbtacks on my wall and proudly proclaimed, “Ah. Dr. Spock. I like him.”
I was mortified. “Dr. Spock is a baby doctor, Rabbi,” I said, calmly. “Mr. Spock is on a television show called Star Trek.”
My black-light poster, still In my possession.
My parents were not keen on me correcting my rabbi, as they were quick to tell me when he left, but my dad made a joke of it and we headed to the dinner table.
I was a “Star Trek” fan, but not as fanatical (yet) as many of the attendees of the various “Star Trek” conventions around the greater Metropolitan area that I kept hearing about.
“Star Trek” wasn’t cool in my school, and one of my classmates was mercilessly mocked for wearing a uniform top to class.
That would never be me, I thought. I need to be accepted. And so I kept my growing devotion to myself.
I instead elected to finally accept and work on my pending obligations. I fulfilled my Bar-Mitzvah responsibilities swimmingly … and then to celebrate we went to see a new movie, with some rather interesting buzz, playing a few towns over on a tiny screen in Monticello.
“STAR WARS” CHANGES MY LIFE. AND THEN SOME.
We entered the theater lobby the following afternoon, and this incredible piece of art is displayed alongside the concessions. What heroism! What excitement!
“What the hell is this?” I wandered aloud.
We excitedly stepped into the theater proper, which was surprisingly packed with kids for a weekday, and their eager parents. The film unspooled to a thunderous score, and barely a minute following the opening crawl and our first glimpse of that monstrous Imperial Star Destroyer swallowing the rebel’s Blockade Runner — and subsequently all hell breaking loose for the next two hours — the audience was alternately standing, booing and cheering at the screen.
Loudly. I’d never witnessed anything like it before or since.
The film drew to its conclusion, and by the time John Williams’ music reached its crescendo as our heroes received their medals and the end credits began … I couldn’t feel my legs. They went totally, utterly numb.
My parents stood and headed back into the lobby. “You coming?” my mother asked.
I could barely muster words. “In a minute,” I said.
I was 13 years old and had no clue what had just hit me. All I did know was that I had a new crush, and I now needed to own everything and anything related to this film. The program book leading off this article was my first-ever “Star Wars”-related purchase.
A month later, I was made fun of for wearing the same four “Star Wars” T-shirts in my class, just like that kid with the partial “Star Trek” uniform weeks prior. I didn’t care, though. My imagination was soaring.
I knew how he felt.
CE3K, REVISITING “STAR TREK” WITH A MORE SERIOUS EYE, LANDING ON “THE PLANET OF THE APES,” AND FINDING TWO BIONIC HEROES.
Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” popularly known in some geek quarters as “CE3K,” was released the year after “Star Wars.” A hugely successful film in its own right, “CE3K” was a magnificent achievement. My head was now quite officially in the clouds.
I caught up on the classics, most especially “2001: A Space Odyssey” and — what has since become my all-time favorite film right alongside the original “Star Wars” trilogy (counted as one, of course) — Stanley Kubrick’s momentous “A Clockwork Orange.”
Suddenly, science fiction was a feast for the mind as well as the eyes.
I then went backwards, becoming addicted first to “Star Trek,” as if watching the series for the first time. Theodore Sturgeon’s “Amok Time” was my very favorite episode, and it remains so today. Dracula and “Werewolf by Night’s” Jacob “Jack” Russell had nothing on this battle of the titans.
The original five-film “Planet of the Apes” saga became the new “Star Wars” in my affections, over a decade following the first film’s initial 1968 release, and my idea of the ideal couple, “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman,” represented all the pulse-pounding sci-fi television adventure this guy could handle back then.
Indeed, when my high school English teacher asked the class to write a short story based on some of our favorite television shows, my A+ 16-page odyssey went a little something like this: The crew of the Starship Enterprise teams with the Six Million Dollar Man to return articulate human civilization to “The Planet of the Apes.”
Hey, it was a school paper. Many, many years later, IDW Comics and Boom Studios presented, with no knowledge of my magnificent short story …
They should have kept “The Six Million Dollar Man” in, but alas …
I guess I was a man before my time.
NOVELS, COLLECTIBLES, COMICS
The rest followed, in short order. My monster and horror-only comics finally scooted over and gave some space to Marvel and DC superheroes. Surely “Superman” was science fiction, at the very least.
I now collected science fiction everything, in addition to my horror memorabilia. A reminder that when I got married … let’s just say I had to make some concessions. I couldn’t quite collect like I did in the old days.
My books, though, were priceless. I would neither sell nor give them away. Asimov’s “Foundation,” Herbert’s “Dune” series, and the works of greats like Heinlein, Niven, Gerrold, Pournelle, Ellison … boxes and boxes of novels and short stories ultimately overtook two storage units.
I was a better man for meeting my wife, but even she knew there really was no hope for me.
She loves me, though.
Clearly, I am an obsessive personality. My habits never shared space with drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Sex, well maybe I break the stereotype there, but in all all seriousness, ladies and gentlemen … in real life I’m boring as hell. However, for as long as the imagination remains perpetually fired up due to my dual loves of horror and science fiction, I’m just a 55-year-old happy married guy … with “Star Wars” underwear.
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